UCT: Academic Freedom Under Attack

UCT protesters burn priceless works of art. A history dies. Protest
UCT protesters burn priceless works of art early 2016.
Flemming Rose
Flemming Rose: controversial proponent of free speech.

On the 22nd of July 2016, the Executive Board of the University of Cape Town (UCT) disinvited Flemming Rose, the foreign affairs editor of Jyllands-Posten, from talking at the TB Davie Academic Freedom Lecture. As a result, the memorial lecture has been cancelled for this year. This is yet another sad case of academic freedom under attack at the university.

Flemming Rose, a Danish journalist infamous for the publication of cartoons of Muhammed, was barred from speaking at UCT due to fears that his presence may incite conflicts on campus. It is crucial to note, however, that Professor Francis Peterson, acting Vice-Chancellor, didn’t suggest that Rose would be the direct cause of any conflict – yet he has been barred.

Petty justifications have arisen: declaring the ironic decision as justified on account of Rose’s supposed contravention of the limits of free speech. They claim that Rose’s presence and speech may incite violence. But as Professor David Benatar accurately argues, Rose is by no means guilty of any contravention.

Rose’s infamy arises from his publication of Muhammed cartoons to shine light on fear preventing freedom of speech. As a result, it’s highly ironic that he be silenced due to fear of reprisals. Prof. Benatar argues this, indicating that Rose cannot be held responsible for the actions of barbarians who cannot maturely deal with his presence:

“Your violent reaction to my expressing an idea does not mean that I have incited you. It means you have resorted to violence when you should not have done so.”

An institution that claims to be for academic freedom and free speech cannot reasonably make such a disgustingly illogical justification to silence an individual. If thugs make threats, you go after them, not silence the innocent. The management of UCT show once again that they do not care about justice.

Max Price, Vice Chancellor of UCT, starts off his diatribe:

“Let me start by affirming our commitment to the right to academic freedom and freedom of expression as enshrined in the South African Constitution.”

UCT protesters burn priceless works of art. A history dies.
UCT protesters burn priceless works of art during early 2016.

Not only is he spineless, he’s also a liar. Prof. Benatar is once again correct in saying:

“Dr. Price’s energies should be focused on condemning those who threaten violence rather than on veiled condemnations of Mr. Rose.”

It is unclear if Price is spineless or genuinely sympathetic to the causes that he has allowed to run amok. What is certain is that he is very much partly responsible for UCT’s drop in the rankings.

A decent individual would see the irony and atrocity in this decision. It is hypocritical, illogical and stinking of capitulation to wrongdoers. It is decisions like this that further make UCT a laughing stock and further reinforces our society’s slip into serfdom.

As a student of the institution, I weep at the thinly-veiled dictatorship that my home has become. I weep for the loss of freedom, of respect, and of reason. At least a few brave individuals stand up against the barbarism that tears at the gates – and I implore all those reading this to join them. The UCT executive has committed a crime against freedom of speech, enshrined in the constitution, and against free society itself.

Forgive the emotive response, but I take this as a deeply personal attack – for when one is silenced, then all can be silenced.